John Krontiras has been running his popular Greek restaurant and small supermarket for the last 25 years in the small town of Birmingham, Alabama, in the South of the U.S.
The Krontiras family back in the early 1990s decided there should be a place in their neighbourhood, which was based on Greek hospitality, where locals could enjoy a cup of coffee, take their kids along to a restaurant for an authentic and fresh meal, purchase some Greek cheese, olive oil and other Mediterranean products and most importantly, be greeted by the shop owner in a warm and friendly way, just like John remembers the cafes and shops being run in his hometown of Patras, where he was born and raised.
John’s dream became a reality in 1993, when along with his Italian wife Ottavia, they purchased Nabeel’s a one-room Middle Eastern market from its original owner, a Palestinian man named Nabeel Shunnarah.
“When I started Nabeel’s, it was much smaller than it is today,” John says. “My wife and I used to come buy Feta cheese and olives and stuff we ate back home.”
John gradually expanded Nabeel’s to form a complete restaurant and market by the year 2000 and now it’s made up of three large rooms, plus Nabeel’s market on the corner. John prides his huge success on his delicious Greek dishes and also the products he sells in his store, which you can’t find in other markets in Alabama, including Greek olive oil, fresh phyllo dough, dried figs and other products from around the world.
John is a very proud Greek and credits Patras his hometown for much of his success.
“Patras is a very historic place, going back to 5000 B.C. It’s right on the water on one side, and the mountains are on the other,” John says. “After my mother died in 1951, my siblings and I were raised by my father, who was in the candy business. I used to watch him cook. Some of the Greek dishes he made were different kinds of lamb and fish. I guess some of these stuck in my mind, because later, I was here in Birmingham working, and when I lost my job, all of those memories came back to me.”
After he was left unemployed, John decided to go back to his roots and that is what led the Krontiras family to purchase the market and start a restaurant serving Greek food John grew up eating. Even today, some of the dishes at Nabeel’s Cafe & Market are found nowhere else in Birmingham, including their famous Taramasalata, Avgolemono Soup and Bifteki. Other Greek favourites and staples found on the menu are Moussaka, which topped the list of “100 Dishes to Eat in Alabama Before You Die”, Pastitsio and Galaktobouriko.
John’s son, Anthony, runs the business and the store, and his wife Ottavia works there as well. The operation is definitely a family business, just the way John intended.
“We began to expand because back then the Birmingham restaurant scene didn’t represent Greek foods. We brought dishes to the city that people were not aware of,” John says. “We expanded the grocery store with more difficult to find items. Stuff that local grocery stores wouldn’t have.”
Nabeels is packed with locals for lunch and dinner and what people love most is John’s friendly nature and personal customer service, which has won people over for the last 25 years. John is seen chatting with his loyal fan base every day and they come back time and time again, wanting to try more Greek flavours that John has created.
“We have the most loyal customers for several reasons: the authenticity of the food, the freshness of the food, but most importantly, my friendship,” John laughs. When dining at Nabeel’s, John’s passion shines through, as he welcomes each customer, both old and new, with Greek hospitality.
“I think the reason we have been here for 25 years is because we believe the following: There should be a place in Homewood that’s a neighbourhood shop and grocery market like the places we went to when we were young. A place where you can go talk to the owners and they can talk to you, where you can sit for a bite to eat or a cup of coffee, then do your shopping, then go home,” John says.
Nabeel’s Cafe and Market | A: 1706 Oxmoor Road, Birmingham, Alabama | PH: 205.879.9292